When I was pulled over for texting while driving a couple weeks ago (on the way to my internship at WPLN), I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to only get a $50 citation.
Texting while driving became illegal in Tennessee in 2009. But rather than $50 texting fines, troopers are now giving far more tickets for violating the state’s “due care” law, which carries up to a $300 penalty. The Tennessee Highway Patrol says troopers just have to see a driver taking their eyes off the road to issue a citation.
“If you can swear and affirm that the actions that they were exhibiting was unsafe operation of a vehicle because of what they were doing inside their vehicle, then by all means [they can be issued] a citation for failure to exercise due care,” says Lt. Bill Miller.
Since January, 8,500 "due care" tickets have been given out by the highway patrol. That’s already more than in all of 2015 and five times more than the 1,400 texting while driving tickets written so far this year.
To catch more drivers in the act, the highway patrol has begun having troopers ride in semi-trucks. Those spotters alert an officer up the road if they see any illegal activity.
When pulled over, many drivers argue they weren’t texting but doing something else with their phone, says Lt. Miller.
In my case, there was a little stretching of the truth. “I did change a couple of songs,” I admitted.
Under the due care law, even if I were only fiddling with a playlist, Miller says it really doesn’t matter. Talking on the phone is really all drivers are supposed to do with their device. Now I feel lucky (lucky?) that I drove away with just a $50 fine.